Paganini, Niccolò

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Paganini, Niccolò

Paganini, Niccolò,legendary Italian violinist; b. Genoa, Oct. 27, 1782; d. Nice, May 27, 1840. His father, a poor dockworker, gave him his first lessons on the mandolin and violin, after which he studied with Giovanni Servette, a violinist in the theater orch. By this time the young Paganini was already composing; he also began to study harmony with Francesco Gnecco, and subsequently studied violin with Giacomo Costa, who arranged for him to play in local churches. His first documented public appearance took place at the church of S. Filippo Neri on May 26,1794. It was about this time that he was indelibly impressed by the Franco-Polish violin virtuoso Auguste Frédéric Durand (later billed as Duranowski), who was a brilliant showman. Having made phenomenal progress in his studies, he was sent to Parma in 1795 to study with Alessandro Rolla. To defray the costs of the journey, he gave a special concert on July 31, 1795. Upon his arrival in Parma, Rolla is reported to have told him that there was nothing left to teach him and suggested that he study composition with Paër instead. Paër, in turn, sent him to his own teacher, Gasparo Ghiretti. After study with both Ghiretti and Paër, Paganini returned to Genoa (1796), appearing as a violinist in private performances. With Napoleon’s invasion of Italy, the family moved to Ramairone. By 1800 he was with his father in Livorno, where he gave concerts; he also appeared in Modena. They returned to Genoa in 1801; that same year, in the company of his older brother Carlo, who was also a violinist, he went to Lucca to play at the Festival of Santa Croce. His appearance there on Sept. 14, 1801, was a brilliant success. He settled there, becoming concertmaster of the National Orch

As a soloist, Paganini captivated his auditors by his pyrotechnics. During an engagement in Livorno he so impressed a wealthy French merchant that he was rewarded with a valuable violin. With the arrival of Princess Elisa Baciocchi, the sister of Napoleon, as ruler of Lucca (1805), musical life there was reorganized. The 2 major orchs. were dissolved and replaced by a chamber orch. Paganini was retained as 2nd violinist, and then was made solo court violinist (1807). After the chamber orch. itself was dissolved (Jan. 1, 1808), he played in the court string quartet and also served as violin teacher to Prince Felix Baciocchi. Dissastisfied with his position, he broke with the court in Dec. 1809, and pursued a career as a virtuoso. He came to national prominence in 1813 with a series of sensationally successful concerts in Milan. He subsequently toured throughout Italy, his renown growing from year to year and his vast technical resources maturing and augmenting such that he easily displaced the would-be rivals Lafont in Milan (1816) and Lipinski in Piacenza (1818). In 1824 he met the singer Antonia Bianchi, who became his mistress; she bore him a son, Achilles, in 1825, whom Paganini had legitimized in 1837. In 1827 he was made a Knight of the Golden Spur by Pope Leo XII. When he left Italy for his 1st tour abroad in 1828, he immediately gained a triumph with his opening concert in Vienna (March 29). He gave 14 concerts during his stay in Vienna, and was accorded the honorary title of chamber virtuoso by the Emperor and presented with the city’s medal of St. Salvator. He made his first appearance in Berlin on March 4,1829. He also played in Frankfurt am Main, Darmstadt, Mannheim, and Leipzig. In 1831 he made his Paris (March 9) and London (June 3) debuts. He subsequently gave concerts throughout Great Britain (1831–33).

Paganini’s artistic fortunes began to decline in 1834; his long- precarious health was ruined, but he had managed to retain his fame and considerable wealth. He continued to give sporadic concerts in subsequent years, but he spent most of his time at his villa in Parma, making occasional visits to Paris. A critical illness in Oct. 1838 led to the loss of his voice; in Nov. 1839 he went to Nice for his health, and died there the following spring.

Paganini’s stupendous technique, power, and control, as well as his romantic passion and intense energy, made him the marvel of his time. He also was not above employing certain tricks of virtuosity, such as tuning up the A string of his violin by a semitone or playing the Witches’ Dance on one string after severing the other 3 on stage, in sight of his audience, with a pair of scissors. He was also a highly effective composer for the violin, and gave regular performances of his works at his concerts with great success. Outstanding among his compositions are the 24 Caprices for Solo Violin, the Moto perpetuo for Violin and Orch., and several of the violin concertos. His collected works are being publ, in an Edizione Nazionale, ed. by L. Ronga et al. (1976 – ). See also M. Moretti and A. Sorento, Catalogo tematico delle musiche di Niccolo Paganini (1983). Paganini prepared a brief autobiography, which was publ, in the Allgemeine musikalische Zeitung, XXXII (1830). His letters were ed. by E. Neill (Genoa, 1982).


violin concertos: E minor (1815?); No. 1, in E-flat major, op.6 (1817?); No. 2, in B minor, op.7 (1826); No. 3, in E major (1826); No. 4, in D minor (1830); No. 5, in A minor (1830); various other works for Violin and Orch. chamber: 3 string quartets (1800 –1805); 21 quartets for various combinations of instruments (1806 –20); Centone di sonate, 18 sonatas; other sonatas; works for Solo Violin, including 24 Caprices (1805).


Valuable information may be found in Quaderno dell’Istituto di studi Rani (1972 – ); see also K. Guhr, Über P.s Kunst, die Violine zu spielen (Mainz, 1830; Eng. tr. by S. Novello, 1831); G. Imbert de Laphalèque, Notice sur le célèbre violoniste N. P. (Paris, 1830); J. Schottky, P.s Leben und Treiben als Künstler und als Mensch (Prague and Hamburg, 1830; 2nd ed., 1909); F. Schütz, Leben, Charakter und Kunst des Ritters N. P. (Ilmenau, 1830); G. Conestabile, Vita di N. P (Perugia, 1851; 2nd ed., rev., 1936, by F. Mompellio); F-J. Fétis, Notice biographique sur N. P. (Paris, 1851; Eng. tr., 1852; 2nd ed., 1876); O. Bruni, N. P., Racconto storico (Florence, 1873; new ed., 1903); J.G. Prod’homme, P. (Paris, 1907; Eng. tr., 1911; 2nd French ed., 1927); S. Stratton, N. P: His Life and Work (London, 1907); A. Bonaventura, P. (Modena, 1911; 4th ed., 1939); J. Kapp, N. P. (Berlin, 1913; 15th ed., rev., 1969); E. Istel, N. P. (Leipzig, 1919); J. Siber, P. (Berlin, 1920); L. Day, P. of Genoa (N.Y., 1929); A. Günther, P. in Lucca (Munich, 1929); A. Montanelli, P. a Forlì (Forlì, 1930); A. Codignola, P. intimo (Genoa, 1935); J. Pulver, P., the Romantic Virtuoso (London, 1936); R. de Saussine, P. le magicien (Paris, 1938; Eng. tr., 1954); I. Pizzetti, N. P. (Turin, 1940); M. Tibaldi Chiesa, P.: La vita e l’opera (Milan, 1940; 2nd ed., 1944); N. Podenzani, II Romanzo di N. P (Milan, 1944); H. Spivacke, Pana (Washington, D.C., 1945); T. Valensi, P. (Nice, 1950); G. de Courcy, P.: The Genoese (2 vols., Norman, Okla., 1957; 2nd ed., rev., 1977); R. de Saussine, P. (Milan, 1958); A. Armando, P.: Eine Biographie (Hamburg, 1960); A. Codignola, Arte e magio di N. P. (Milan, 1960); D. Botti, P. e Parma (Parma, 1961); G. de Courcy, Chronology of N. P.’s Life (Wiesbaden, 1961); P. Berri, P.; Documenti e testimonianze (Genoa, 1962); A. Kendall, P. (London, 1982); J. Sugden, P. (N.Y., 1982; 2nd ed., rev., 1986); X. Rey, N. P.: Le romtique italien (Paris, 1999).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

Paganini, Niccolò

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PAGANINI, NICCOLÒ (1782–1840), Italian violinist and composer.

Niccolò Paganini's astonishing bravura and compositional originality on the violin enabled him to carry out, in the years 1812–1834, the most successful concert career of any instrumentalist before him. He brought audiences all over Europe to frenzies of enthusiasm and earned numerous honors and titles. His twenty-four Caprices for solo violin, first published in 1820, have formed a central foundation of violin technique since the mid-nineteenth century.

Paganini was born in Genoa and spent his entire life in Italy until 1828. He received training in violin and composition from several musicians, among them Alessandro Rolla. From 1801 to 1809 he lived in Lucca, serving from 1805 in the orchestra of Prince Felice and Elisa Baciocchi. Here he first explored the possibilities of writing for the G-string alone, producing the Sonata Napoleone. Temperamentally unsuited to the restrictions of the court, he left Lucca, and from 1810 to 1827 led an itinerant life as a concert violinist, interspersed with periods of relative inactivity due to illness, amorous affairs, gambling, and dissipation. A series of concerts in Milan in 1813, featuring his new variations on Le streghe, established him as the leading violinist of his age. In the following years he developed a close association with Gioacchino Antonio Rossini (1792–1868), whose melodies he favored as themes for concert variations and whose opera Matilde de Shabran he conducted in 1821. In the early 1820s his health showed a precipitous decline, apparently from venereal disease, that plagued him the rest of his life and left his body emaciated. He nevertheless continued to concertize, often with his lover, the singer Antonia Bianchi, who gave birth to his son and only child, Achille, in 1825.

In 1828, armed with two newly written concertos, Paganini launched his legendary European tours with a wildly successful series of concerts in Vienna. Over the next six years he concertized constantly in Bohemia, the German Confederation, Poland, France, and England, accompanied only by his son, whom he adored and treated with immense affection, and occasionally by a travel companion who kept track of his books. He earned enormous sums of money. His concerts usually featured one of his lengthy concertos, one or two of his variation sets with orchestra, and an extended work for solo violin, intermingled with short orchestral fillers and arias by guest singers. His reclusive lifestyle, ravaged body, dark looks, and his unusual performing posture, together with the sometimes bizarre sounds he was able to call forth from the instrument, gave him a mysterious, demonic presence on stage that riveted audiences and led to a whole series of rumors about his past and personal life. Journalists steeped in the literary style of Romanticism, especially in Germany, invented fantastic tales and constructed his image as the protopyical Romantic virtuoso. An amorous scandal in England provoked Paganini to retreat from public concerts in 1835, and he remained between Italy and France until his death five years later. At Parma he reorganized and conducted the ducal orchestra for a short period, and in 1837 he tried to establish in Paris, together with an entrepreneurial friend, a "Casino Paganini," but it soon foundered.

Paganini's compositional output can be divided into three categories: the twenty-four Caprices for solo violin; concert pieces for violin and orchestra, including both concertos, variation sets, and solo violin pieces; and chamber music for strings and guitar or mandolin. The Caprices, dedicated "to the artists," constitute his main compositional legacy, although he considered them studies and did not play them in public. They are indispensable builders of technique for aspiring

virtuosos, and as prototypical character pieces they influenced later composers such as Frédéric Chopin (1810–1849), Franz Liszt (1811–1886), Robert Schumann (1810–1856), Johannes Brahms (1833–1897), and Sergei Rachmaninov (1873–1943). The concert works feature an extremely high level of virtuosity and usually assign a minimal role to the orchestral part. The chamber pieces are mostly for amateurs and accordingly are light and pleasant in tone.

Paganini's playing combined the fire and virtuosity of the Italian virtuoso school with the elegance and melodic focus of the French violin school. His principal technical innovations in writing for the violin include the extensive use of harmonics (high-pitched tones produced by touching the strings lightly rather than pressing them against the fingerboard), left-hand pizzicato (plucked notes), the polyphonic mixture of pizzicato, legato, and harmonic tones in rapid alternation, composition for the G-string (the lowest-pitched one) alone, and a bowing technique that helped project a strongly impassioned or tragic melody. His legacy was taken up most explicitly by the violinists Ole Bull (1810–1880), Heinrich Wilhelm Ernst (1814–1865), and Henri Wieniawski (1835–1880).

See alsoLiszt, Franz; Music; Opera; Romanticism; Rossini, Gioachino.


Courcy, Geraldine I. C. de. Paganini, the Genoese. 2 vols. Norman, Okla., 1957.

Dana Gooley

Niccolo Paganini

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Niccolo Paganini

The Italian violinist and composer Niccolo Paganin (1782-1840) inaugurated the century of the virtuoso and was its brightest star. He laid the foundation of modern violin technique.

Niccolo Paganini was born on Oct. 27, 1782, in Genoa of musically ambitious parents. At the age of 9 he made his debut playing to an enthusiastic audience his own variations on La Carmagnole. He studied with Giacomo Costa. When Niccolo was taken to the famous violinist Alessandro Rolla, the latter declared he had nothing to teach him. Nevertheless, Niccolo did study violin for a while, as well as composition and instrumentation. At the age of 14 he freed himself from his father.

Paganini's career was checkered: gambling, love affairs, rumors of his being in league with the devil, and rumors of imprisonment, which he frequently denied in letters to the press. In love with a Tuscan noblewoman, he retired to her palace, where he became completely absorbed in the guitar from 1801 to 1804. On returning to the violin he performed a love duet by using two strings of the violin and then surpassed this by playing a piece for the G string alone.

In 1816 Paganini appeared in a "contest" in Milan with Charles Philippe Lafont and later remarked, "Lafont probably surpassed me in tone but the applause which followed my efforts convinced me that I did not suffer by comparison." Paganini's success in Vienna in 1828 led to a cult in which everything was a la Paganini. Similar triumphs followed in Paris and London. In 1833 he invited Hector Berlioz to write a piece for him for the viola; Harold en Italie was the result. Paganini played frequent concerts for the relief of indigent artists. In 1836 he became involved in a Parisian gambling house; government interference led to bankruptcy and permanently damaged his health. He died on May 27, 1840, in Nice.

Even when Paganini was playing Mozart and Beethoven, he could not restrain himself from brilliant embellishments. The violinist made innovations in harmonics and pizzicato and revived the outmoded mistunings. Although he took a giant step forward in scope of technique, he paradoxically did this while holding the violin in the low 18th-century style and using a straight bow of the late Mozart period, which the Parisian violin maker Jean Baptiste Vuillaume persuaded him to give up. Although it is generally assumed that the modern technique is far "superior" to that of the 19th century, this is belied by the fact that many passages in Paganini are still scarcely playable.

Paganini's best pieces—Violin Concertos No. 1 and No. 2, the Witches' Dance, and the 24 Caprices—are firmly in the repertoire. Because he jealously guarded his technical secrets for fear they would be stolen, only his 24 Caprices and some music for guitar were published during his lifetime.

Further Reading

Important discussions in English of Paganini's music and playing are in E. van der Straeten, The History of the Violin (2 vols., 1933), and G. I. C. de Courcy, Paganini, the Genoese (2 vols., 1957).

Additional Sources

Casini, Claudio, Paganini, Milano: Electa, 1982.

Courcy, G. I. C. de (Geraldine I. C.), Paganini, the Genoese, New York: Da Capo Press, 1977, 1957.

Fetis, Francois-Joseph, Biographical notice of Nicolo Paganini: with an analysis of his compositions and a sketch of the history of the violin, New York: AMS Press, 1976.

Kendall, Alan, Paganini: a biography, London: Chappell: Elm Tree Books, 1982.

Prod'homme, J.-G. (Jacques-Gabriel), Nicolo Paganini: a biography, New York: AMS Press, 1976 1911.

Sugden, John, Niccolo Paganini, supreme violinist or devil's fiddler?, Speldhurst, Tunbridge Wells: Midas Books, 1980.

Sugden, John, Paganini, London; New York: Omnibus Press, 1986. □

Paganini, Niccolò

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Paganini, Niccolò (b Genoa, 1782; d Nice, 1840). It. violinist and composer. Regarded as greatest of all vn. virtuosos. Made first tour at 13 and comp. difficult pieces for himself to play. During a love affair in 1801–4 he took up the guitar, for which he composed 6 str. qts. with a guitar part, and other works. Returned to platform 1805 with sensational success. Dir. of mus. to Princess of Lucca 1805–9. Milan début 1813, Vienna 1828, Paris and London 1831. In Paris in 1833 commissioned va. conc. from Berlioz, the result being Harold en Italie, but he never played it. From 1834 he made few appearances: for some years he had been suffering from cancer of the larynx which killed him in 1840. He left a fortune and was generous to colleagues in need. Owned vns. by Stradivarius, Guarnerius, and Amati, also Stradivarius va. and db. His Mephistophelean appearance led to stories that his virtuosity stemmed from diabolical powers; he was a skilled showman and although his feats as a virtuoso are no longer regarded as unique or unapproachable, he pioneered the use of harmonics, tuned his instr. to obtain special effects, used several styles of bowing, and exploited staccato and pizzicato as never before. His intonation was unfailingly accurate. Works incl.:VN. CONCS.: No.1 in E♭ (usually played in D) (?1817), No.2 in B minor, with Rondo à la clochette (1826), No.3 in E major (1826), No.4 in D minor (1830), No.5 in A minor (1830), and the so-called No.6 in E minor (comp. c.1815) (and others lost).VN. AND ORCH.: Le Streghe (Witches' Dance) based on air by Süssmayer; Variations on God Save the King; Moto perpetuo, allegro de concert; Variations on Non più mesta (La Cenerentola); Variations on the air Di tanti palpiti (Tancredi).VC. AND ORCH.: Variations on Theme of Rossini for 2 vc.SOLO VN.: 24 Caprices (c.1805); Variations on Le Carnaval de Venise; Duo in C; Recitative and Variations on 3 airs for the 4th string.CHAMBER MUSIC: 12 sonatas for vn. and guitar; 6 qts. for vn., va., guitar, and vc.; vn. sonata with vn. and vc. acc.; Terzettos for vn., vc., guitar; 3 str. qts. (1800–5).

Paganini, Niccolò

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Paganini, Niccolò (1782–1840) Italian violinist, the most famous virtuoso of his day. He enlarged the range of the violin by exploiting harmonics and mastered the art of playing double and triple stops (two or three notes at a time).